Change and hope. Hope and change. These are the reasons America elected Pres. Obama. The aughts constituted America's worst decade for quite some time. There was 9/11, which exasperated an already ailing economy, two wars, one of which was sold to us on false pretenses, the seeming breakdown of the rule of law amongst Washington insiders, cynicism, hyper-partisanship, torture, the bursting of the housing bubble which lead to the worst economy since the Great Depression, bank and auto industry bailouts, global warming, and a complete loss of trust in our government.
This on the heels of the 90s which saw record growth in the economy and no wars. Peace and Prosperity. That's all we want. But in a post-9/11 world it was beginning to seem as though that was no longer possible.
So Pres. Obama came along with ideas that made us have some hope again. He said we'd end that awful war in Iraq. We'd close that symbol of American arrogance and torture, Guantanamo Bay. We'd ensure that every American, not just the wealthy, had access to humane health care. We'd invest in green jobs and renewable energy, fighting the dual threats of global warming and a weak economy. We'd reward people that volunteer. We'd raise the bar for our teachers and schools. We'd make government more efficient by reviewing the individual agencies and programs. We would no longer be beholden to special interests and lobbyists. We'd do it all as a united America, not red and blue, Republican and Democrat. Oh, and he'd be the our first black president, showing the world, and ourselves, that America had finally put to rest our shameful history of race relations. Yes, he sold change and hope.
And now, reality.
The reality is that, like every politician that ever campaigned in the history of America, he simply could never fulfill all that promise, and especially after only one year. But America was so worn down after the aughts and Barack Obama was such a new, interesting, charismatic political force, that we invested a little too much of our hope in him. We expected a little too much change too fast. This Modern World sums up pretty well how we became enamored with our ideal of Pres. Obama.
All this is not to say that America was hoodwinked or believed naively in some sort of American Savior. There is good reason he won the election: he was the best choice. And he has made changes that we absolutely needed. He's closing Guantanamo (albeit slower than we'd like). He's withdrawing from Iraq (albeit with an ugly escalation in Afghanistan). He's committing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (albeit with major concessions to industry). He's committed to reforming health care (albeit with major concessions to industry).
Things are changing for the better, but without the stark break from the past we were expecting. If we had come into the Obama administration with more tempered expectations I suspect we'd be pretty pleased with what we saw, and I suspect that after four years we'll look back and see more progress than we realized while in the middle of it. But there is no denying that reality is a lot less appealing than the ideal.
And the most stark reality is that America is in a hyper-partisan mood right now. Conservatives impeached Pres. Clinton, liberals went after Pres. Bush hard, and now conservatives are going after Pres. Obama hard. We are willing to put party before country. There was never any dispute, for instance, that the health care system is broken and shameful, but no matter what was proposed conservatives were going to oppose it. It is hard to blame that strategy from a political perspective because it seems to be working pretty well. But that's not to say that it is good for America.
In this party before country atmosphere the group that has gained the most is lobbyists. They use the partisanship to exploit their relationships with the Washington insiders and thus create gridlock. The lobbyists want nothing more than status quo. As long as the system stays the same, a system where bankers and insurance companies can ruin peoples' lives without consequence, the lobbyists have won. So even in a world where Pres. Obama was actually disposed to fight hard for every ideal he embodies, the system is set up for him to fail.
Can he find a second wind and change the system? Doubtful. Is that our ideal of him? It is. Hope and change? Prospects diminishing. But let's see what he's got in store for 2010 before making any final judgments.